Information Regarding the Jewelry Industry in Guatemala
Washington, D. C, March 18.—In reply to inquiries from a trade association in Chicago, Consul-General Beaupre writes from Guatemala, Feb. 16, 1899:
During the years of Guatemala's phenomenal prosperity, this was a splendid market for precious stones and jewelry of all kinds. The trade was centered largely in the two cities of Guatemala and Quezaltenango. The enormous profits of the coffee planters created sudden and large wealth, which was lavishly expended in luxuries. This ended, however, some two years ago, since which time the trade has ebbed, until now it is practically nothing. The fall in the price of coffee, the depreciation of silver, and revolutionary troubles created a panic, and great depression in business followed. With exchange at 250 per cent, premium on New York and very high customs duties, it is almost useless to attempt to sell jewelry in this country at present. There were magnificent jewelry stores in this city, and some of them remain, but their business is very small. They are endeavoring to sell their old stock and import but little. There are no wholesale dealers, the merchants importing direct.
Most of the jewelry comes from Europe; but, for some reason, the Waltham watch holds the market and is used almost exclusively. This is probably due to the fact that it has been well advertised and pushed, and the peculiarity of this people is that they are averse to change, and prefer to buy that with which they are perfectly familiar.
The duty on each gold or gold-plated watch is seven pesos, and on each of silver or other material one peso. This is in Guatemalan currency, with exchange fixed at 200 per cent, at present. [The United States Director of the Mint, Jan. 1, 1890, estimates the Guatemalan peso at 43.9 cents.] However, a recent decree provides that 30 per cent, of the import duty shall be paid in gold or its equivalent, which adds to the schedule rate given.
Diamonds can be bought here for less than the cost of importing them. They were brought in during the flush times in large quantities, and the conditions have forced many into the market. A very good white three-karat stone can be bought for about 500 pesos ($219), and, with exchange at 250 per cent, premium, it could not be deemed profitable to import them. This will hold good in jewelry of all kinds, and, while the present distressingly hard times continue, it will be of little avail to attempt to do any business in this line in Guatemala. Watches can hardly be classed among the luxuries, and it is quite possible that small sales could be made.
But these hard times will not continue; the causes which led to them are being remedied, and the resources of the country are such that prosperity must come again within a reasonable period. The building of the Northern Railroad, which is in part constructed, and which will connect this capital with Puerto Barrios, on the Gulf of Honduras, but four days' sail from New Orleans, is now practically assured. and will doubtless be completed by United States capital within the next two years. When this is done, American merchants can well expect that this Republic will be a profitable field for business.
There is nowhere in Central America a commercial agency similar to Dun's, and the only way to obtain information as to the responsibility of dealers is by inquiries of individuals or the banks, and this method is quite unsatisfactory. For this reason, much of the business is transacted through commission houses at New York or San Francisco, who send representatives here.
The customs duties on jewelry are as follows:
Gold or platina, any kind of alloy, with pearls or precious stones, net weight, 150 pesos per kilogram (2.2046 pounds).
Silver or gold, silver or steel, any kind of alloy, with pearls or precious stones, net weight, 50 pesos per kilogram.
Gold or platina. any kind of alloy, without pearls or precious stones, net weight, 50 pesos per kilogram.
Silver or gold, silver or steel, without pearls or precious stones, net weight, 10 pesos per kilogram.
Thirty per cent, of the duties are payable in gold or its equivalent, the balance in Guatemalan currency.
The packing must be as light as possible, and yet secure and strong enough to withstand a long, hard journey and not too careful handling. The port of San Jose de Guatemala, whither all goods must be shipped, is an open roadstead, and to drop packages from the steamer into launches when a heavy swell is running, and then hoist them onto the pier, is a severe test upon the packing, and this cannot be too secure. Should the goods be destined for Quezaltenango or any of the interior towns, they experience in addition the vicissitudes of a pack mule journey over precipitous mountain trails, being bumped at intervals against overhanging rocks and trunks of trees. When the Northern Railroad is finished, these difficulties will be lessened, for Puerto Barrios has a harbor, and vessels can come up to the pier and unload.
Among the fine jewelry stores, I mention the following: F. Widmer, 9 Calle Oriente, bajos del Gran Hotel; Carlos Juvet, 6 Ave. Sur y 9 Calle Poniente; German Porcher, "La Perla," 8 Ave. Sur y 9 Calle Poniente; Joyeria "La Maisonnette," Cohn y Dreyfus; Simon Block, "La Esmeralda," 6 Ave. Sur fte. al I.
Prominent banking institutions in this city are: El Banco Americano, EI Banco Agricola-Hipotecario, El Banco Internacional, and El Banco Colombiano.
Source: The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review - 22nd March 1899